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Precision Feeding - Best for Cows, CAFO and Your Wallet

Jerry Bertoldo, Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

Last Modified: June 4, 2013
Precision Feeding - Best for Cows, CAFO and Your Wallet

That large fermentation vat with billions of microbes of many different types is a complex system. These rumen "bugs" are capable of turning fibrous material that has little nutritional value to simple stomached animals into a significant source of energy. However, far from a universal feed digester, the rumen has many quirks related to optimal function. This is where a precision feed concept really makes sense.

Think about the rumen as a combustion chamber or engine. The microbes, protein and carbohydrates are like the flame, fuel and the oxygen in the mechanical system. The more precise the delivery of the components - the volume, rate, ratio and mixing - the better the quality and quantity of end products. Volatile fatty acids (VFA's) and microbial protein (microbe "bodies" themselves) are the high value result of microbial growth and digestion of intake feed. Ruminants do not use carbohydrates like we do. They have to be fermented down into VFA's first. Proteins can either bypass the rumen or be changed by the microbes. Since these hard - working bugs need nitrogen in the form of peptides, urea or ammonia, some protein breakdown in the rumen is necessary to provide these.

It so happens that microbial protein is quite similar to milk protein in amino acid composition. Microbial protein yield can provide up to 60% of the cow's daily protein requirement, a good portion of which goes to produce milk. The beauty of this source of protein is that you can feed the bugs pretty basic (read cheap) sources of carbohydrates and protein (or even urea) and have them make high quality and readily available protein. Remembering the combustion chamber analogy, you have to blend the feed sources wisely to offer the rumen microbes what they need, when they need it and in the right ratios.

The issue of the other 40%-plus of the protein requirement lies more in the bypass or Rumen Undegraded Protein (RUP) category that enters the cow's mouth. Heat treated soy products are an example of commodities high in bypass protein. Added lysine and methionine in the diet is helpful in meeting the requirements for these essential amino acids. Feed stuffs vary in the amount and ratio of these key components.

The other major microbial process, fiber digestion (carbohydrates in the bigger picture) has to be considered as well. Fiber digesters are slow workers and finicky about what pH they work in. Too much starch with too little effective fiber and too little available nitrogen leads to acidosis, a pH drop, poor digestive efficiency and less quality microbial protein produced. What the bugs don't make you have to buy.

This year's growing conditions have left us with forage shortages and high feed commodity prices. The flexibility your nutritionist has to economically balance a ration that maximizes cows' digestion and makes the milk and components you are used to is under pressure. The tight margins being faced drive us to think first of controlling costs. Best cost versus least cost decisions are less palatable, but can result in reasonable returns for dollars invested. This will be a year where adding pricey amino acid analogs or record high quality protein blends might surprise you by the results. The catch is that you have to know by analysis what you are feeding, it must be mixed and delivered accurately as formulated and the basics of cow comfort have to be met to allow the animal to utilize what she eats.

Keep in mind that a cow's body condition, health and productivity are like a bank account. You can draw on it for just so long before you need replenish what was borrowed. This year will be a draw down year, but does not have to be a break the bank one.











calendar of events

Upcoming Events

Beginning Farmer/Hobby Farmer Workshop $5/pp, class size is limited, so pre-register by April 15th!

April 27, 2019
9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Canandaigua, NY

This hands-on workshop is for beginning or part-time farmers who would like to improve their farm machinery skills, learn to properly and safely maintain their equipment to protect their investment. If you have been thinking about buying a tractor, new or used, two-wheel or four-wheel drive, compact or utility or more come join us. Topics include: selecting the right size/type tractor for the job; basic maintenance; staying safe around tractors and equipment; attaching implements properly; and information about ROPS and SMV's. There will be time for questions.

Pre-registration requested by April 15, 2019 email Amy with your name, address, and phone number or call 585-394-3977 x 429.
Fee: $5.00/person. Class size is limited.

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2019 Pastured Poultry Seminar, lunch included so please register by May 10th! $25/person

May 18, 2019
Registration begins at 8:00 a.m.w/ coffee & donuts with the Program running from 9:00 a.m. - 5 p. m.
Attica, NY

The main speaker this year is Eli Reiff of Mifflinburg Pennsylvania. Eli raises broilers, turkeys, sheep, and beef, all on pasture. Topics to be covered will include the pasture, feed and nutrition, marketing, costs, and much more. As we grow as farm operators and get bigger, we may not pay as much attention to the basics as we should. So those areas are where we will start, and then expand to cover the group's interests.

Mike Badger, Director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association will also be available for a round-table discussion. Plans are to have representatives from Farm Bureau, NYCAMH for farm health and safety, Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, as well as others.

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Calling all 9th-12th graders! 4th Annual Precision Agriculture Day at Genesee Community College

May 21, 2019
9:00 am - 1:30 pm Register by Friday May 10th! $15/per person includes lunch
Batavia, NY

Calling all 9th-12th graders!  We have an exciting new program for students interested in technology, science, engineering, and agriculture!
Would you like to:
  • Learn about how Drones collect information
  • Check out some potential career opportunities that have new and ever-changing technology
  • Learn how these technologies can be used in our own backyards in WNY
  • Discover potential and exciting career opportunities

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Producers Previously Enrolled in the LGM Program Now Eligible for MPP

Dairy Producers Previously Enrolled in the Livestock Gross Margin Program Now Eligible for 2018 Margin Protection Program
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that dairy producers who elected to participate in the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy Cattle Program (LGM-Dairy) now have the opportunity to participate in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) for 2018 coverage. Sign-up will take place March 25 through May 10, 2019.
Eligible producers can enroll during the sign-up period at their local USDA service center. To locate your office, visit

Smart Farming Team Technical Assistance Grant Application

The Labor Ready Farmer Project is offering grants to provide up to 12 hours of Technical Assistance (TA) consulting services to farms who want to make improvements to their farm's processes in hiring, training, managing or evaluating employees. Applicants will choose from one of the following four areas for TA assistance and identify a specific project. If selected they will be matched with a "Smart Farming Team" of consultants who will provide one on one technical assistance.
Please complete this application and send to Nicole Waters, Beginning Farm Project Coordinator for the Cornell Small Farms Program. The form can be submitted by email, mail or in-person at the address listed below. Please feel free to call or email with any questions.

Nicole Waters - Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator
Plant Science Building, Room 15b
Tower Road, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: 607-255-9911

Applications accepted on a rolling basis.

USDA Announces January Income over Feed Cost Margin Triggers First 2019 Dairy Sa

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2019 ? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced this week that the January 2019 income over feed cost margin was $7.99 per hundredweight, triggering the first payment for eligible dairy producers who purchase the appropriate level of coverage under the new but yet-to-be established Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

DMC, which replaces the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, is a voluntary risk management program for dairy producers that was authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. DMC offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week that sign up for 
DMC will open by mid-June of this year. At the time of sign up, producers who elect a DMC coverage level between $8.00 and $9.50 would be eligible for a payment for January 2019.

For example, a dairy operation with an established production history of 3 million pounds (30,000 cwt.) that elects the $9.50 coverage level for 50 percent of its production could potentially be eligible to receive $1,887.50 for January.

Sample calculation:
$9.50 - $7.99 margin = $1.51 difference
$1.51 times 50 percent of production times 2,500 cwt. (30,000 cwt./12) = $1,887.50

The calculated annual premium for coverage at $9.50 on 50 percent of a 3-million-pound production history for this example would be $2,250.

Sample calculation:
3,000,000 times 50 percent = 1,500,000/100 = 15,000 cwt. times 0.150 premium fee = $2,250

Operations making a one-time election to participate in DMC through 2023 are eligible to receive a 25 percent discount on their premium for the existing margin coverage rates.

"Congress created the Dairy Margin Coverage program to provide an important financial safety net for dairy producers, helping them weather shifting milk and feed prices," FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said. "This program builds on the previous Margin Protection Program for Dairy, carrying forward many of the program upgrades made last year based on feedback from producers. We're working diligently to implement the DMC program and other FSA programs authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill."

Additional details about DMC and other FSA farm bill program changes can be found at

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1